Hope Once Again In Wisconsin

Please, if you will, take a few minutes to read this long piece on the race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court from the Capital Times‘ Steven Elbow. The election, which pits conservative incumbent David Prosser against the liberal newcomer JoAnne Kloppenburg, will be an important guide by proxy for the success of Scott Walker’s agenda in the Dairy State. So far, things don’t look good for Walker or for Prosser.

Elbow’s piece does a very good job of illustrating what Digby called the “serious, civic argument happening” in Wisconsin these days. Whatever else you want to say, Wisconsinites are debating real, meaningful distinctions in political visions for their state. Elbow’s article successfully depicts that debate. Agree with it or don’t, it’s a great example of the kind of long-form journalism not seen very often these days.

I don’t want to weigh the piece down with Religious Significance. I have never cared for the habit of tagging every story with big themes “theological.” But in this case, the label is nearly warranted. It shows people who have been mobilized by their opposition to Walker’s agenda, but I think the story goes beyond simple politics. These are people possessed of hope in a way that is, if not explicitly theological, then at least well-explained by it.

They see for the first time that their voice can make a difference. They are ready to challenge the structures and scripts that are set up to divide and conquer. They are taking chances, taking their grievances public, keeping the powerful from locking down the present moment, not being bought off by economic fulfillment or empty words about union-busting and give-aways to well-heeled interests being technical adjustments necessary to manage a desperate fiscal situation.

To my mind, this fresh sense of possibility and the new participation of average citizens in determining their own future offers a tantalizing glimpse of the work of the God of Exodus. Creation, nothing. The Lord—the wily desert trickster—can and does upset political apple carts by calling people to the sort of hope outlined above.

I have no idea where this election is headed, and don’t mean to imply God is coming down on one side of it or another. It’s just that for once things are playing out according to the usual script. If they were, this would be a low-turnout election that Prosser would win easily, and Walker’s agenda in support of the wealthy would go unchecked in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That’s the way things are supposed to work. I for one thank God for that they’re not in this case, and thank Steven Elbow for alerting me to the difference.

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